A European adventure can be one of the most unforgettable experiences for travelers both young and old. The sheer diversity of Europe and the countless number of experiences that await you are worth getting excited for.
In Europe, languages change region to region, locales have their own distinct culture, and the must-see attractions are spread across the continent. This means it’s almost impossible to see everything Europe has to offer in one trip.
Unfortunately, even a short Euro trip can be a drain on the finances. Just getting across the Atlantic can be quite the financial commitment, and that’s before you’ve even paid for food, drinks or hotels. Based on our own experiences and those of our client’s we’ve compiled a helpful list of 9 tips to make your journey more affordable:
1. Shop around for your airline tickets
Try messing around on travel sites to see how cheap you can find a round trip to Europe. There are aggregate sites that compile and compare prices from a large range of the best vendors. To find the best price, adjust your departure and return dates and think outside your local airport and train station. Sometimes a little driving will make a huge impact on savings. For example, Boston usually offers cheaper flights to Dublin compared to Pearson airport and flying into Turkey, Norway or Sweden is cheaper than landing in London. Also, check out the prices for a layover in Iceland, the extra stop might save you money for when you arrive and give you one more stop to see!
If you’re moving around a lot within the continent, check out cheap airlines such as Ryanair. These no frills airlines will usually be significantly cheaper than the flag carrier airlines like British airways or Air France. You might not have inflight movies, but you’ll get where you need to go.
2. Book lodging and other transportation in advance if you can
In the age of online booking, almost your entire trip can be bought and paid for before you’ve even left the airport. If you know what days you’ll be in a certain city, go ahead and check to see if there are any discounts online. Same goes for bus or train travel. While its good to leave some things open for spontaneity, you can save a lot of money by booking at least some lodgings in advance.
3. It doesn’t have to be a hotel
Hostels are a much bigger draw in Europe than they are in North America – and much more affordable. You may have to share a room with others, but don’t let that stop you. Especially if you’re younger or just looking for an adventure, hostels are a great way to meet other travelers from all over the world.
4. Avoid tourist traps – especially when it comes to food
When figuring out where to eat, avoid the restaurants on the main streets or adjacent famous landmarks. A good rule of thumb is that if the restaurant has an English language version of its menu, it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to be overcharged – unless you’re in the UK or Ireland of course! Search for out of the way, local establishments. You’ll likely pay less and get a superior, more authentic meal out of it.
5. Check out rail travel in Europe
Cheap flights in Europe are widely available but if you would prefer to stay grounded, you can catch a train to almost anywhere. The Eurail Global pass allows you to explore up to 28 countries by train, including France, Germany, Spain, Greece and Sweden. The 1 month Eurail Global pass costs $891 (CAD), and gives you unlimited access to the European rail system, with many other options available. Exploring Europe by train is an experience like no other and although it may take longer than flying you’ll be able to take in the scenery.
6. Get a phone card in Europe
Often times people will forget about the freedom and savings of an unlocked phone. Instead of signing up for an expensive international plan through your existing carrier, get a SIM card or burner phone after you reach your destination. You’ll find an abundance of kiosks selling international SIM cards and cheap phones (you can call the US/Canada for about 10¢/min) for a much lower price than here in North America. It’ll save you money, and you’ll be able to stay better connected with your friends and family back home.
7. Use cash, not cards
Instead of credit or debit cards, use cash as your primary means of paying. You know you’re not going to get charged extra through hidden fees and terrible exchange rates, and there’s no risk of running into unwanted debt by the time you get home.
Depending on the country you’re visiting, it is best to over budget and bring more money with you. We recommend you bring on the low end about $75 a day per person, and on the higher end $150 a day per person. You can always get leftover currency exchanged once you’re home.
Note: We also warn our clients to be aware of hidden ATM fees when withdrawing money overseas.
8. Save money when you convert your currency
On a related note, make sure you get a good rate on your currency exchange by buying before you fly. You don’t want to blow a good percentage of your budget simply getting the necessary euros, pounds, or kronor before you even leave. Check out Continental Currency Exchange for the guaranteed best exchange rates when exchanging your hard earned cash.
9. Careful when you tip
While tipping 15-20% might be the norm over here, it’s not always the case in Europe. Do your research beforehand – make sure you’re not over tipping at restaurants or for cabs. In some places, such as England, the tip is often included, so you definitely don’t want to be putting down any more money. While I’m sure it’s appreciated, it is not expected or necessary.
Bonus! Be Spontaneous!
Some of the best experiences on a European trip can come out of nothing. Whether it’s walking through Paris late at night in the rain, exploring the hills around Edinburgh, or meeting new friends – it’s important that you keep an open mind.
Simply put, don’t rule out an experience because of a price tag. Save your money for the things you really want to do while leaving your options open for anything that might come up. These will be the experiences that make your European trip memorable, not whether there was a spa in your hotel. So start researching now, and plan your – affordable – European getaway!
Stay informed. Stay Current.